Peace activists rejoiced Sunday over the fact that Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Cabinet didn’t visit Yasukuni Shrine this year, while conservatives slammed the decision.
At the Japan Education Center in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, around 190 people welcomed Kan’s decision to stay away. The group included citizens who lost relatives in World War II and who generally object to politicians visiting Yasukuni Shrine.
“We have been calling on the government to refrain from visiting Yasukuni Shrine,” said Kenichi Kato, a member of the National Liaison Conference of the Association of War Dead for Peace in Tokyo who organized the event. “And this year, our wishes finally came true.”
“But still, it doesn’t mean that the problem is solved fundamentally,” Kato said, pointing out this may change once another government comes in.
Kato also criticized Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara for visiting the shrine Sunday, saying that “we must not stop our activity.”
The day marked the 65th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II and the first since the Democratic Party of Japan took power last year. It is also the first time in nearly 30 years the entire Cabinet has refrained from visiting the contentious shrine.
As this year also marks the 100th year of the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty that began Japan’s 36-year colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, a number of participants said they came to the gathering to learn more about the treaty from a lecture given by Haruki Wada, professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo and a renowned expert on modern Korean history. Wada welcomed Kan’s Aug. 10 apology to South Korea for Japan’s past colonial rule, saying he observed it as a positive step forward for a strong relationship with South Korea. Nevertheless, he added, myriad problems remain unresolved.
“There are problems of financial compensation, wartime ‘comfort women’ and other issues,” Wada said.
Among the audience was Hiroko Kato, 72, who has come to the gathering several times.
“I don’t know much about the treaty, so I’m here to learn more,” said Kato, who brought clippings of recent newspaper articles on World War II to the event. “Considering the feelings of Korean and Chinese, I think politicians should refrain from visiting the shrine.”
Kakunosuke Akiyama, 76, who lost his elder brother in combat in Okinawa, expressed his support for the Cabinet’s decision to skip ceremonies at Yasukuni. “It’s good to know that they are not going,” he said.
After the gathering, participants took to the streets with banners such as “Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara should stop visiting Yasukuni Shrine” and “nuclear weapons destroy the world.”
In stark contrast, rightwing activists on black trucks shouted and threatened them, roaring that the Association of War Dead for Peace is “a fake peace group.”
At Yasukuni Shrine in Chiyoda Ward, hundreds of conservatives came to the 24th annual gathering to commemorate the war dead, where attendees criticized the absence of the prime minister and his Cabinet this year.
They issued a statement that slammed Kan and stressed the need for the prime minister to visit to Yasukuni.
“In Japan, Yasukuni Shrine is the central memorial to commemorate the war dead, and it is matter of course for the prime minister to represent all Japanese people and visit the shrine on Aug. 15, which is the day to commemorate war dead and wish for peace,” the statement said.
The statement also criticized Kan for issuing an apology to South Korea on the centennial of annexation, adding that such an apologetic attitude has restricted Japan’s foreign diplomacy and drawn criticism from other countries.
“We have no choice but to say that Kan is changing Aug. 15, which is the day to commemorate and appreciate the spirits of the war dead to a day for apologizing to foreign countries,” the statement said.
“Kan’s decision should not be forgiven,” said a 35-year-old man who only gave his last name as Koriyama. “People (honored at Yasukuni Shrine) gave their lives for the country. It’s just ungrateful of Kan.”
Koriyama, with a little Hinomaru flag in his hand, also fumed about Kan’s recent apology to South Korea.
“It’s nonsense for the government to follow South Korea’s aspect of the history,” he said. “We did the good things (for South Korea), by pouring so much money for that country toward its modernization.”
Koriyama was with protesters from the rightwing group “Zainichi Tokken o Yurusanai Shimin no Kai” (Citizens’ Group against Foreign Resident Privileges in Japan) who gathered near the shrine.
Waving Hinomaru flags and using megaphones, the group shouted, “We should not let (the government realize) suffrage for foreign residents.”
Air raid redress eyed
Survivors and families of those who died in U.S. air raids across the nation during the war formed a group Saturday committed to lobbying for a law that will provide them assistance and redress.
Some 300 people from 20 organizations nationwide gathered in Tokyo, led by Mitsuru Kimori, 77. Kimori, who is involved in lawsuits related to air raids on Tokyo, said the group’s goals were to seek legislation and demand the state investigate the names and number of air raid victims.